Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Rivals for Catan

Settlers of Catan has become a mainstay of the board gaming community in its many years of publication.   Its creator, Klaus Teuber, has published many variations of the game over the years. My favoriate variations on the basic Settlers theme has been his two player games, Rivals for Catan, and Starfarers of Catan.  Today we are going to take a look at Rivals for Catan in depth.


Rivals takes the basic Catanian resources and set you up with your own principality on the fabled island.  Instead of competing for space and points on a shared map, each player has a group of cities and settlements to manage. Interaction comes from event cards , die rolls, and some shared limited building resources.  The overall goal is to be the first to reach a set number of victory points based on the era you are playing in.

Right out of the box, you are handed nine cards that make up your initial province: two settlements, a road to connect them, and six resource cards, each with a different die number on them.  The basic game has you set up the blank backed cards into five draw piles, placed between the players. The cities, settlements, roads,and events go next to them. Each player draws three cards from the draw piles, and then the game begins.  

 Each player rolls the dice at the start of his or her turn.  One die is a standard numbered die which indicates which resources the players get that turn.  The other die is an event die with custom symbols.  The events can vary, from being robbed by bandits, to prosperous year, tournaments, or an event card from the event deck.  Once the dice have been cast and each player has collected his or her  resources, the active player can build.  Then play passes to the next  player. Players continue until one player has the required number of victory points in their principality, which is seven in the beginner game. 


The various buildings from the draw deck do a lot for players.  Fleets can give you better trading choices than the standard three to one from the bank.  The abbey lets you have more cards in hand.  Toll bridges let you claim gold when your opponent does certain things.  Normally your settlements can hold just two building cards, but if you upgrade them to cities you can build four items in each city.

Rivals had its start as the Settlers of Catan card game about ten years ago.  I really enjoyed the original game, but some of the player interaction felt clunky and a bit forced.  There was an attempt to upgrade the game by releasing some theme decks, but those had some weird rules too and I wasn't terribly fond of them, despite owning them the minute they were released in the US. Rivals really is the card game, version 2.0.  Rather than the knights being random personalities, they have been turned into characters from the Settlers book that was released in Germany.  Almost all of the 'take that' cards have been reworked into much smoother events.  While there is a measure of competition, the events and action cards aren't as punishing here as they used to be. 

The new theme decks also integrate into the game in much better ways.  Once you've mastered the beginner game, you can add one of the three era decks in (gold, war, prosperity,) and play to ten points.  These decks are integrated by taking the blank backed cards and dividing them up into three piles, then dividing the era deck into two piles giving you five decks to draw from.  Each era typically has a special building that each player can build once, such as a mint for the gold era.  These are not drawn, but just claimed from a face up pile.  They also have era specific events that are shuffled into the event deck for you to encounter as you roll the dice.    Above and beyond that, you can play an epic 'duel of the princes' using all the events and all three era decks, playing until a player reaches twelve points. 


Rivals for Catan results in a masterful reworking of the basic Catan idea.  It is a subtle head to head game of building and prospering on the island.  If you only have two players, and want the Settlers of Catan experience in a much more interesting way, this is an excellent alternative.  It plays well in about forty minutes to ninety minutes, and there is enough card variety that you won't see that same cards over and over.  It is also very straightforward in play that you will want to play more than one game in a sitting. I can highly recommend this small box title from  Mayfair Games and Klaus Tueber.


Rivals for Catan can be purchased from Mayfair Games or your Friendly Local Game Store! More information about the game can be found on Boardgamegeek

Tom Tjarks is a Fort Worth native and avid game player (PC, Console, Board Games) He has previously written for GamingTrend.com and can be found asking lots of questions about games on Boardgamegeek.  @tntjarks on twitter,  Dreamshadow on Boardgamegeek and other forums.